Author's note: This is a continuation of my previous column. The university responded three days after my call for an investigation into viewpoint discrimination in the student group recognition process at UNC-Wilmington. This is my first response to that investigation. What was intended to be a two-part series will now stretch into three parts. Enjoy part two below.
Dear Chancellor Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I am in receipt of the results of your three day investigation into allegations of viewpoint discrimination by the student affairs division of the administration at UNC-Wilmington. The results of the investigation are unsatisfactory and now compel me to seek outside assistance to remedy problems that administrators are aware of but unfortunately appear to be denying.
The idea of a three day investigation into viewpoint discrimination is patently offensive. There were four student groups mentioned in my previous letter. The investigation identified two of the groups as having applied for official recognition before declaring that they were being treated fairly. The investigation also blamed one group for losing its provisional status by missing a scheduled meeting. Next, it concluded that the process of recognizing the other group was going smoothly. That characterization is in dispute.
Unfortunately, your investigator neglected to do something important. He neglected to speak to the student applicants directly. I have talked to them directly but your administration hasn't. You should schedule a meeting with these students and hear their concerns directly. Take your time and get all of the relevant information from both sides. Don't rely on the results of a three day internal investigation. Internal investigations have a tendency to result in acquittal. They tend to be fast, but not very furious.
The length of the investigation is not the only problem. Also problematic is the investigator. Mike Walker, the UNCW Dean of Students, was previously at the center of a well-known controversy concerning the general issue of fairness toward student groups. That controversy led to the passing of North Carolina's Student & Administrative Equity Act, also known as the SAE act. The act now prevents students and student groups from being expelled or suspended as a result of hearings that ban students from bringing in outside counsel.
Last year, things came to a head when the Dean's office punished Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) for insisting on having an attorney present while its officers were questioned about possible hazing and alcohol related violations. The Dean's office asserted that the hearing was administrative, not criminal, and that, therefore, the Sixth Amendment right to counsel did not apply.
The fraternity was cleared of the most serious allegations of hazing. But they were held responsible for the alcohol related violations. They were then suspended from campus for two and one half years.
Lawmakers and concerned citizens were shocked over the incident. The idea of questioning kids about potentially criminal conduct without permitting their attorneys to be present (and while facing university counsel) violated widely accepted values of fundamental fairness.
The letter written by Dean Walker to SAE, which informed them of their suspension, demonstrated a shocking display of administrative arrogance. In the letter, Walker actually accused the fraternity of "potentially intimidating behavior" and "disrespectful conduct toward university staff and a witness participating in the hearing process" without any explanation of what that behavior entailed. They were accused of exhibiting behavior that fell below expected standards of "decorum" for simply standing outside the hearing and waiting to hear whether they would be suspended from campus.
These fraternity members were standing outside the hearing for a very simple reason: they were not allowed to enter the hearing because university officials would not let them enter. Instead of transparency, the university opted for secrecy. And there is good reason for that. Please allow me to explain.
At the very moment Dean Walker suggests that SAE was trying to coerce witnesses with tactics of intimidation, the university was using coerced confessions in a hearing that would have adversely affected those alleged to be engaging in the "inappropriate behavior," which is otherwise known as "standing."
Unbelievably, prior to the SAE hearing, witnesses were actually called in by university officials and asked to sign confessions of illegal conduct (alcohol consumption). Students were told that if they did not sign the confessions the university would call their parents. At least one student signed a confession without even reading it.
Predictably, UNCW then used the confession in the SAE hearing. When the student said he didn't read the confession (suggesting that he was coerced) the university had to cover its tracks. Two days later, an administrator emailed the student and apologized for making him sit outside near the SAEs as he prepared to testify.
This was a clever maneuver. There was a discrepancy between what the student said in the hearing and what was said in the confession he signed outside the hearing. Instead of admitting that the administration caused the discrepancy by intimidating the student outside the hearing, they tried to turn the tables. This explains the origins of the accusation that the students were the ones altering testimony by engaging in intimidation in the form of standing near witnesses.
To recapitulate, this was a three step maneuver: 1. UNCW officials intimidate student witness. 2. When caught, UNCW officials accuse other students of intimidation. 3. Dean Walker writes an intimidating letter to create a paper trail to cover up the UNCW policy of intimidating students into signing coerced confessions.
It is obvious why the Dean does not want lawyers in student administrative proceedings. The tactics of dictator deans cannot survive the process of cross-examination.
Of course, not all hearings go so badly for fraternities. After SAE was acquitted of hazing and sentenced to 2&1/2 years suspension, Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) was actually convicted of hazing and sentenced to only one year of suspension. What could account for the discrepancy?
Is the fact that Dean Walker was a member of TKE in college wholly unrelated to the discrepancy? Just for safe measure, why not conduct a three-day investigation? And why not put Dean Walker in charge?
Chancellor Miller, I'll write back when I've finished my own investigation into the issue of viewpoint discrimination, which was the subject of my previous correspondence. In the meantime, I would recommend that you get busy firing some people over the in the Dean of Student's office.
The problem isn’t drunken students. The problem is administrators who are drunk on their own power.
…To be continued.